Saturday, November 8, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

"Just step back a bit .."

This part added Nov 6:

That's at the south rim, above, last year at Grand Canyon National Park. Below is a mule train, this week, leaving from that basic location to "Plateau Point", 3200 ft down, and with an overlook to the Colorado River another 1200 feet down. For perspective, the location for the pic above is at the bottom of the bendy curve in the horizon, down and just left from where the contrail hits the horizon (see here for a map). In the pic below the treed area in the background is Indian Garden, and the trees are thanks to a natural spring that drains down into the Colorado. They say that 7 of the world's 8 basic climate zones are represented in the trek from the top of the canyon to the river .. I believe it.

If you're not taking a mule down Bright Angel trail, this is the way down: South Kaibab Trail (if you expand this picture you can see two people coming up the trail on the extreme left, and smaller still two people going down right by the bottom switchback .. gives some perspective):

At times you walk alone, with your thoughts, the canyon walls, and the promise of a warming morning sun and a river somewhere below:

First stop, Ooh Ahh point, with the "battleship" butte in the near background, and the North Rim in the distant background. In between is our destination, the Colorado River.

The views are spectacular ..

A look over to Plateau Point, and the trail from Indian Garden (not visible) out to it (the worn area at the end is the mule rest); some beautiful views of the river and canyons within the canyon from there:

If you blow that picture up, there's a little green patch to the right (east) of Plateau Point, and you can see a little snippet of the river. Bright Angel trail comes up from the river through that green patch. That was our return route, and you'll get to see some hanging gardens on the way.

The walk down is beautiful -- South Kaibab Trail was built with tourists in mind while Bright Angel Trail was still privately owned -- on top of the ridges and buttes, and thus with the great vistas. Of course, some guys can find trouble anywhere (late note, my wife's caption for this picture is better than mine, she called it "Wrong way, Sisyphus"):

While others just minding their own business:

Blister stop:

Ah, a glimpse of the river, and, look hard, it has visitors (visible if you blow up the picture). This will be our lunch stop, and then begin the uphill climb.

Finally, almost there, and then ... there (well, through a tunnel, over a bridge, down a little hill, and there)! By the way, in the bottom left picture the treed area to the top (north) of the river is the lead-in to Phantom Ranch (the green patch on the right hand side of the first picture; detailed pic here, you can actually see people), the single lodge at the bottom of the canyon. This is the stop-off point for many (wimps) who want to spread the "Rim-to-rim" or the "down and up" trek over two days. We thought we were okay doing down and up in a day, only to have a guy join us (and our flashlight) for the last half hour of our trek on the tail end of his "rim-to-rim-to-rim" 48 km single day sojourn. That will be my goal for next year, I guess. Also, if you blow the picture up, you can see the second (westerly) of the two foot bridges crossing the river, this one people only, and leads to the Bright Angel Trail which after 9-10 miles or so takes you back (in the dark, for us) to the South Rim. The east bridge in the pic on the right and below is at the bottom of the South Kaibab Trail and is heavier duty, for mules and people.

And yes, you get to dip your feet in the Colorado:

In the background is the oldest section of rocks that make up the canyon, the Vishnu Schist layer; to get an idea of the relative size of this layer to the whole canyon, see here. Then lunch on the beach with some other trekkers, watching some Spaniard river rafters (the visitors spotted from above) getting ready to continue their 16 day ride down the river:

Some company, the rafters:

Oh, and hi to you, too, you don't mind, do you (you look hungry)?

And you, we know you're watching

Okay, time to go. Just remember, as the sign on the way down says, "Getting down is optional, getting up is mandatory!"

Now the rafters have caught up, lots of company. Here the trail goes along the river for a mile or so, the connector from South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trails. A thousand or so feet up (still three thousand + down from the South Rim), at about Plateau Point elevation, a second trail, Tonto Foot Path, connects the two.

A last look, the river wasn't much more than this, when, a mile up and 5 million years ago, it started journey downward, through the Coloardo Plateau:

The journey back. Getting dark, but still gotta suss out the great views:

{Six or so hours later ..} Made it! (note what's in my right hand: essential!):

Five minutes earlier, emerging from the dark (and cold) at Bright Angel Trailhead .. whew!

Okay. Top it off the next morning with some sunrise pics

and then listening to Ranger Dave. In thirty minutes you'll learn more than you ever thought you could know about the Grand Canyon, trust me


Two days earlier we were at Zion Park, this is the last stretch to aptly named Angel's Landing. After a 2 hour climb you're confronted with a final challenge: cross this narrow ridge, 800 ft drop on one side and 1200 ft drop on the other, and you're there ...

and yes, we shall walk that wall

da climb (I'm a little spec on the middle-left)

only to find in the end that somebody has got your spot:

Another view:

Fly away? I can still see you ..

Concentrate, the view down is a bit dizzying:

To think about, the outer ring below is the road, the inner ring is the Virgin River. Where I stood to take this picture, at one time I would have been at the bank of that river. There's a saying by the great one-armed civil war general and Colorado River explorer John Wesley Powell that goes something like this: "Deep time gives water dominion over rock." Amazing but true.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Stampy does the cottage

Hmmm, what to do?


No. Swim?


Why not?

[ ... later ... ] But really, can't beat home


p.s. perfect chart from hipparchia


Oct '09

Stampy suffered a broken bone in her tail about a year ago. At 14, she doesn't heal much, and now it appeats that gangrene is setting in. It's too high in the tail to operate (amputate), so, well, ... what can you do?

Monday, October 13, 2008


October 13, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist,
Gordon Does Good

Has Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, saved the world financial system?

O.K., the question is premature — we still don’t know the exact shape of the planned financial rescues in Europe or for that matter the United States, let alone whether they’ll really work. What we do know, however, is that Mr. Brown and Alistair Darling, the chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent to our Treasury secretary), have defined the character of the worldwide rescue effort, with other wealthy nations playing catch-up.

This is an unexpected turn of events. The British government is, after all, very much a junior partner when it comes to world economic affairs. It’s true that London is one of the world’s great financial centers, but the British economy is far smaller than the U.S. economy, and the Bank of England doesn’t have anything like the influence either of the Federal Reserve or of the European Central Bank. So you don’t expect to see Britain playing a leadership role.

But the Brown government has shown itself willing to think clearly about the financial crisis, and act quickly on its conclusions. And this combination of clarity and decisiveness hasn’t been matched by any other Western government, least of all our own.

What is the nature of the crisis? The details can be insanely complex, but the basics are fairly simple. The bursting of the housing bubble has led to large losses for anyone who bought assets backed by mortgage payments; these losses have left many financial institutions with too much debt and too little capital to provide the credit the economy needs; troubled financial institutions have tried to meet their debts and increase their capital by selling assets, but this has driven asset prices down, reducing their capital even further.

What can be done to stem the crisis? Aid to homeowners, though desirable, can’t prevent large losses on bad loans, and in any case will take effect too slowly to help in the current panic. The natural thing to do, then — and the solution adopted in many previous financial crises — is to deal with the problem of inadequate financial capital by having governments provide financial institutions with more capital in return for a share of ownership.

This sort of temporary part-nationalization, which is often referred to as an “equity injection,” is the crisis solution advocated by many economists — and sources told The Times that it was also the solution privately favored by Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman.

But when Henry Paulson, the U.S. Treasury secretary, announced his plan for a $700 billion financial bailout, he rejected this obvious path, saying, “That’s what you do when you have failure.” Instead, he called for government purchases of toxic mortgage-backed securities, based on the theory that ... actually, it never was clear what his theory was.

Meanwhile, the British government went straight to the heart of the problem — and moved to address it with stunning speed. On Wednesday, Mr. Brown’s officials announced a plan for major equity injections into British banks, backed up by guarantees on bank debt that should get lending among banks, a crucial part of the financial mechanism, running again. And the first major commitment of funds will come on Monday — five days after the plan’s announcement.

At a special European summit meeting on Sunday, the major economies of continental Europe in effect declared themselves ready to follow Britain’s lead, injecting hundreds of billions of dollars into banks while guaranteeing their debts. And whaddya know, Mr. Paulson — after arguably wasting several precious weeks — has also reversed course, and now plans to buy equity stakes rather than bad mortgage securities (although he still seems to be moving with painful slowness).

As I said, we still don’t know whether these moves will work. But policy is, finally, being driven by a clear view of what needs to be done. Which raises the question, why did that clear view have to come from London rather than Washington?

It’s hard to avoid the sense that Mr. Paulson’s initial response was distorted by ideology. Remember, he works for an administration whose philosophy of government can be summed up as “private good, public bad,” which must have made it hard to face up to the need for partial government ownership of the financial sector.

I also wonder how much the Femafication of government under President Bush contributed to Mr. Paulson’s fumble. All across the executive branch, knowledgeable professionals have been driven out; there may not have been anyone left at Treasury with the stature and background to tell Mr. Paulson that he wasn’t making sense.

Luckily for the world economy, however, Gordon Brown and his officials are making sense. And they may have shown us the way through this crisis.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Why Do You Have To Be Dead To Be Smart?

Why now, Ehud, on your way to the graveyard?

September 30, 2008,

Olmert Says Israel Should Pull Out of West Bank


JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in an interview published on Monday that Israel must withdraw from nearly all of the West Bank as well as East Jerusalem to attain peace with the Palestinians and that any occupied land it held onto would have to be exchanged for the same quantity of Israeli territory.

He also dismissed as “megalomania” any thought that Israel would or should attack Iran on its own to stop it from developing nuclear weapons, saying the international community and not Israel alone was charged with handling the issue.

In an unusually frank and soul-searching interview granted after he resigned to fight corruption charges — he remains interim prime minister until a new government is sworn in — Mr. Olmert discarded longstanding Israeli defense doctrine and called for radical new thinking, in words that are sure to stir controversy as his expected successor, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, tries to build a coalition.

“What I am saying to you now has not been said by any Israeli leader before me,” Mr. Olmert told the newspaper Yediot Aharonot in the interview on the occasion of the Jewish new year, observed from Monday evening till Wednesday evening. “The time has come to say these things.”

He said that traditional Israeli defense strategists had learned nothing from past experiences and that they seemed stuck in the considerations of the 1948 war of independence.

“With them, it is all about tanks and land and controlling territories and controlled territories and this hilltop and that hilltop,” he said. “All these things are worthless.”

He added, “Who thinks seriously that if we sit on another hilltop, on another hundred meters, that this is what will make the difference for the State of Israel’s basic security?”

Over the last year, Mr. Olmert has publicly castigated himself for his earlier right-wing views and he did so again in this interview. On Jerusalem, for example, he said: “I am the first who wanted to enforce Israeli sovereignty on the entire city. I admit it. I am not trying to justify retroactively what I did for 35 years. For a large portion of these years, I was unwilling to look at reality in all its depth.”

He said that maintaining sovereignty over an undivided Jerusalem, Israel’s official policy, would involve bringing 270,000 Palestinians inside Israel’s security barrier. It would mean a continuing risk of terrorist attacks against civilians like those carried out this year by Jerusalem Palestinian residents with front-end loaders.

“A decision has to be made,” he said. “This decision is difficult, terrible, a decision that contradicts our natural instincts, our innermost desires, our collective memories, the prayers of the Jewish people for 2,000 years.”

The government’s public stand on Jerusalem until now has been to assert that the status of the city was not under discussion. But Mr. Olmert made clear that the eastern, predominantly Arab, sector had to be yielded “with special solutions” for the holy sites.

On peace with the Palestinians, Mr. Olmert said in the interview: “We face the need to decide but are not willing to tell ourselves, yes, this is what we have to do. We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the meaning of which is that in practice we will withdraw from almost all the territories, if not all the territories. We will leave a percentage of these territories in our hands, but will have to give the Palestinians a similar percentage, because without that there will be no peace.”

Elsewhere in the interview, when discussing a land swap with the Palestinians, he said the exchange would have to be “more or less one to one.”

Mr. Olmert also addressed the question of Syria, saying that Israel had to be prepared to give up the Golan Heights but that in turn Damascus knew it had to change the nature of its relationship with Iran and its support for Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia.

On Iran, Mr. Olmert said Israel would act within the international system, adding: “Part of our megalomania and our loss of proportions is the things that are said here about Iran. We are a country that has lost a sense of proportion about itself.”

Reaction from the Israeli right was swift. Avigdor Lieberman, who leads the Yisrael Beiteinu party, said on the radio that Mr. Olmert was “endangering the existence of the State of Israel irresponsibly.”

He added that those who thought Israel’s problem was a lack of defined borders — as Mr. Olmert stated in the interview — “are ignoramuses who don’t understand anything, and they invite war.”

As they reacted to Mr. Olmert’s remarks, Palestinian negotiators said it was satisfying to hear Mr. Olmert’s words but they said the words did not match what he had offered them so far. Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian official, told Palestinian Radio that it would have been better if Mr. Olmert had taken this position while in office rather than while leaving it and that Mr. Olmert had not yet presented a detailed plan for a border between Israel and a Palestinian state.

In theory, Mr. Olmert will continue peace negotiations while awaiting the new government. But analysts generally say that having been forced to resign his post, he will not be able to close a deal.
Just to say, can anything be more obvious than that. And yet, will one person (who counts) say it?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Turkey, the Aegean Coast

Ephesus (Efes .. "like the beer")

The theatre here, built by the Greeks and expanded by the Romans, is magnificent. You just want to sit and wonder, and think, and chat.

The library at Efes. Another magnificent structure. One thing, it was climate-controlled. The walls against which books were stored looked like an exterior wall but wasn't; behind the library wall was a passage for free flow of air, then the exterior wall, all to keep the books and scrolls from exposure to humidity.

The theatre at Efes from near the top. Sometimes you'd have a tour group listening to the tour leader, sometimes you'd just have people hanging out.

The main drag at Efes. Generally the roads and buildings were on mild grades.

One reason: you wanted a constant flow of water. Unrelated, but imagine somebody walking in and the only free stall was between these two guys?

Reasons you want a guide, number 52. You'd miss this ad, the world's first we were told, and wouldn't you know, associated with the world's oldest profession. A foot, an arrow and a heart .. the rest is up to you.

Pergamum (Bergama)

This is a tunnel leading to or part of a psychiatric hospital. The tunnel is actually underground, with the roof just butting up to the surface ground. This was significant, in that the underground location, with its constant temperature amd cool and humid climate, was thought to be comforting. Note the ceiling openings, there were several and these allowed doctors, off hours, to "monitor" their patients, listen in on their well-being or other carrying-on. The location was also chosen due to the existence of spring water pools, the water was thought to have healing qualities. All in all, Pergamum was likely the most advanced medical facility of its time.

Here we walk towards what was once the Temple of Apollo. It's always a leisurely walk, as the approach time equals the time needed for the guide's explanation of what you are about to "see". The trees are beautiful. How much do they know?

I'm always looking to adopt a family (see Nicaragua pics), here we had seen these kids gathering firewood earlier. A family lives and farms on top of the old city. I wonder if the spring water keeps them healthy?

The theatre at Pergamum. Like Efes this used to be a coastal city, now its inland at least a couple of miles.

This picture is labeled "Roman seats", and the reason, as I recall, is that they were distinct in style from the Greek seats .. I just don't recall why and how. I know the Greek theatre seating was more head on, or to think of the shape a small arc of a circle, and when the Romans added on and upgraded they added to the outside changing the layout to more of a semi-circle.

Didyma, Miletos, and Prienne

One thing you always look for, other than the theatre, is the counsel chamber. This one is at Didyma. Who gets the big chairs? (Hellooo, fatboy.)

Not much to say here, when you look at the ruins you always have to have one thing in the back of your mind: earthquake. Two+ millennia, you're bound to have a couple of knee-knockers.

Me trying to be artistic at Prienne. I got grudging approval of this pic from my wife (most of the other pics are hers). Of course this column "structure" hasn't stayed in this precarious state for 2500 years, it was reconstructed for us, the tourists. Same for the columns, below, at Prienne.

The cities were very strategically located: vantage point, ability to defend (probably the most important), accessibility, etc.


Not much going on here. But that was Izmir.

Compare to Istanbul:

This was a couple minutes walk from our hotel. A touristy area I guess, some nice restaurants, and probably people like us, just arrived in the city. The flag is ever-present. Same with statues of Ataturk, I'll have to find one.

Roman arches

Are everywhere, the first is Efes, the second is Miletos, and the bottom, Istanbul.


Just a reminder that you don't have to leave Istanbul to see the work of the Romans. Their aqueducts were a work of art.


Added Dec 13, 08: